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Chaska quarterback Justin Arnold outruns the Hopkins defense. [Marlin Levison, Star Tribune]

Three Hopkins football players trudged back toward the team bus, and one reminded his teammates that Friday’s wild back-and-forth game at Chaska is an example that “anything can happen.”

And how. The teams crammed a season’s worth of drama into opening night. Chaska best navigated the ebb and flow and earned a 41-39 victory.

Hopkins, which scored with 44.6 seconds left, hoped to tie the score with a two-point conversion, but the pass failed.

Chaska quarterback Justin Arnold watched the two-point conversion and ensuing onside kick attempt from the sidelines. The Hawks recovered, setting off jumping and cheering among players and fans alike.

“That was a nerve-racking [final] play because I saw the ball rolling,” Arnold said. “It was a great feeling once we got that ball.”

It was equally satisfying for Chaska, a Class 5A school, to dominate the fourth quarter against 6A Hopkins. The Hawks outscored the Royals 20-6, and got a 35-yard touchdown run from Arnold to put them ahead for the first time since early in the first half.

Chaska’s defense followed suit, turning Hopkins over on downs at the Hawks 36-yard line. Matthew Witthus, who caught a first-quarter touchdown pass, struck again with a 7-yard touchdown run to give Chaska a 41-33 lead with 5:21left.

“We felt we improved in the third quarter and brought our intensity up,” Arnold said. “It kept rolling into the fourth quarter and, once we get rolling, we just don’t stop. It’s a good feeling."

Hopkins knew that same feeling earlier. The Royals scored 27 unanswered points through the second and third quarters. Quarterback Tyler Lee threw scoring passes to Terrance Bowers and Tajaun Winston. Running backs Harry Momoh and Shaheed Hickman also scored, the latter on a 55-yard touchdown run that showed why Hickman won the Class 2A state title in the 100-meter dash last spring.

The Hopkins surge spoiled Chaska’s solid first quarter. Kolby Seiffert got the home team ahead 7-0 with a 53-yard fumble return. A second Royals fumble set up Arnold’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Witthus.

Chaska used its triple-option offense to take the lead again in the second half.

“They kept pounding the ball, and we didn’t stay disciplined,” Hopkins coach John DenHartog said “We have a lot of first-time varsity starters and we panicked a little bit.”

The Royals’ late touchdown drive, though, showed some maturity.

Then came the two-point try. “We got the look that we wanted,” DenHartog said. “We just didn’t execute. There were a lot of plays like that tonight.”
 

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